Brad Wenger, general manager of Hilton
(Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli)
Brad Wenger grew up swimming at the Delaware beaches. In recent years, the Newark native and his family have enjoyed the beach at North Bethany. In all the time he had spent in the ocean, Wenger had never experienced problems in the surf—until one life-altering day last summer.
DT: Where do we begin?
BW: It was last August. The surf was rough, but it wasn’t crazy. I had been in rougher waters. There were no lifeguards because it’s a private beach. I was trying to dive under the breakers to get out to where I could swim. I went under one breaker. I went under a second one, and then a third came and landed on top of me. The wave pushed my body straight back toward the shore. It drove my left leg like a piling right into the sand and the pressure point was my knee. I was immediately in excruciating pain. I found myself not being able to swim. I was fighting to try to remain conscious. The pain was like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I realized I needed help in a hurry or this wasn’t going to end well.
DT: That’s scary.
BW: Well, for whatever reason, someone was looking out for me that day. This complete stranger saw the sheer panic on my face. He got behind me and wrapped his arms around my chest and started to take me in through the breakers. When we were near the beach, he walked away. It was weird. To this day, I don’t know who that individual was.
BW: My brother-in law and my best friend helped me to the beach and I blacked out. I was done. I was very lucky in the sense that there were a lot of people vacationing down there. There was a doctor and an EMT that were there on vacation. They helped me deal with the pain until the ambulance got there.
DT: How bad was your knee?
BW: The first orthopedic surgeon I saw, he wouldn’t even do the work on me. I ruptured my MCL. I dislocated my kneecap. I ruptured my patella tendon, and I shredded my meniscus. The only thing I didn’t injure was my ACL.
DT: You said the experience changed your life.
BW: I felt like I had been given another chance. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t really count my blessings. It makes you change the way that you go through the day, in all aspects—your relationships, your kids, your professional relationships, bucket list-related stuff. It’s given me motivation to try to give back in a lot of ways that I hadn’t found time to do previously. I need and want to be a mentor for a lot more people than I was before.
DT: Why do you think you were given a second chance?
BW: I’m a pretty analytical person. I would describe myself as agnostic. I had logic and reason for why things happened in this world, and I was really good at it. Then I lost my dad to ALS. But I didn’t really want to make myself think about it too much—faith and why things happen. Since the accident, I think about that a lot. I’ve started this RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process with Holy Angels to explore my spirituality. I’m meeting weekly and exploring with a group about how they can become better people as a result of having faith and a relationship with God. I can’t come up with answers to a lot of these questions. I need help in trying to figure it out. I think it’s time to face up to it. I don’t know what it’s going to lead to. I don’t know if I’m going to become a Catholic or not. That doesn’t have to be decided right now.